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Senate Panel Hears From Backers Of Plan To Kill Property Taxes

State Senate supporters of a plan to replace school property taxes with higher personal income and sales levies are shopping their proposal around to colleagues.

It’s hard to tell for sure if popular support for property tax elimination has grown, but rallies and hearings on the issue tend to be packed with people who say their property taxes are so high they’re in danger of losing their homes.

A Senate Finance Committee hearing on the issue Wednesday was no exception. But even co-sponsors of the “tax shift” plan under consideration now would create new winners and losers.

“Folks, we know this is a big shift,” said Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), one of the prime sponsors of the measure.

Some say it’s too big. Opponents have raised concerns that greater new personal income and sales taxes would fall heaviest on the poor and businesses. Authors of the bill say they’ve taken pains to minimize the impact on the poor. Other skeptics suggest the issue of rising property taxes can’t be addressed with any finality without also revisiting how state funding is driven out to Pennsylvania public schools.

“I don’t agree that not supporting this bill means that we’re supporting the status quo,” said Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin). “Several of us have other approaches to dealing with the property tax issue.” Teplitz added that he favored “targeted relief” proposals – band-aid approaches to bring tax costs down for people paying out the ears, instead of blowing up the entire levy and replacing it with a new one.

But supporters of property tax elimination say targeted relief isn’t enough.

“I have voted for a lot of those targeted relief efforts in the past and to be perfectly blunt, they all failed,” said Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), reaching for one of his favorite clichés. “Until we kill the beast and put the stake through its heart so it can never rise again, I don’t think that we’ve solved the problem.”

A similar plan was shot down by the House last fall. A vote has not been scheduled on the Senate measure.

The hearing Wednesday, ostensibly, was intended to go over recent changes to the property tax elimination plan. But the amendment, according to Folmer, shades in technical details of what would be taxed under the proposal. It was scarcely mentioned during the hearing.

When asked what the hearing did accomplish, Folmer gestured that it advanced the issue. Next up, he said, voters have to come down on either side.  

“There’s no more excuses,” said Folmer. “They’re either for the tax shift or against the tax shift.”

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